An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, investigated the association between regular consumption of spicy foods risk and cause of death. Those who ate spicy foods almost daily had a relatively 14 percent lower risk of death as compared to those who ate spicy foods less than once in a week, especially without excessive alcohol consumption. The statistics were generally similar for men and women, but a lower risk of dying from cancer, respiratory diseases and ischemic heart disease was more evident in women.

Spices And Herbs: Conducting The Prospective Study

Previous studies have highlighted the benefits of spices and their bioactive ingredients. These beneficial effects include anti-obesity, anti-inflammation, anti-cancer and antioxidant properties.

To establish the link between consumption of spicy foods and risk of death, researchers performed a prospective study consisting of 487,375 participants between the ages of 30 and 79. Participants were selected from the China Kadoorie Biobank between 2004 and 2008. Follow-ups were conducted for mortality and morbidity rates.

The participants were made to complete a questionnaire asking about general health, physical measurements, and intake of spicy foods, vegetables, red meat and alcohol. Individuals with a history of heart disease, cancer and stroke were excluded, and variables such as marital status, age, education and physical activity were controlled.

Reporting The Observations

During a median follow-up of 7.2 years, 20,224 deaths were reported.

Participants who consumed spicy foods once or twice a week had a 10 percent lower risk of death (hazard ratios for death was 0.90) as compared to those who ate spicy foods less than once a week. Moreover, those who consumed spicy foods more than twice a week had a 14 percent reduced risk of dying (hazard ratios for death 0.86, and 0.86 respectively)*.

Among the spices eaten weekly, fresh and dried chili peppers were the most common. Further observations revealed that consuming fresh chili lowered the risk of dying from cancer, diabetes, and ischemic heart disease.

Authors explained that certain bioactive ingredients in spices are responsible for these associations, such as capsaicin being rich in vitamin C, etc. However, since this was an observational study, researchers caution against forming a definitive ‘cause and effect’ relationship between spicy food consumption and reduced risk of death.

Forming A Conclusion

Nita Forouhi from the University of Cambridge says that it’s still too early to conclusively state that increasing consumption of spicy foods improves health. Further research is required to significantly prove that the associations reported in this study are directly linked to intake of spicy food, and whether it can be used as a reliable marker for dietary and lifestyle factors.

*Hazards ratio is a measure of how often a particular event happens in one group compared to how often it happens in another group, over time.